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Putting Gold back in the Triangle

While watching a recent Murrieta Planning Commission workshop, I found the song “Déjà vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young playing in my head. 

“We have all been here before, we have all been here before.”

A gentleman stood before the commission detailing the latest plans for the once “Golden Triangle” – now just the “Triangle” –  right down to the white table cloth restaurants and larger parking spots.

The Triangle, for the thousands of residents who will soon be moving into all the new apartments, is a 64-acre hunk of dirt located twixt Interstates 15 and 215.

Since the mid-1980s this “most valuable property” in all the known universe, or at least Riverside County, has been the subject of more proposals than all the Kardashians combined.

The latest proponent was sincere and enthusiastic as were commission members who seemed giddy this long awaited development might actually happen.

I hope they’re right but – and it’s a big but – let’s set the wayback machine and take a look at the not so distant past.

First, know that without the Triangle, Murrieta may not have become a city at all, and certainly not in 1991.

In the late 1980s Temecula cityhood proponents submitted a plan to Riverside County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to include most of present-day Murrieta into one big newly incorporated city.

This plan ruffled feathers in Murrieta where a committee proposed boundaries for a separate city. Long story short – and it’s a very long story – LAFCO approved Murrieta’s request to put the question of cityhood to Murrieta voters. A deciding factor was sales tax revenue from the planned Murrieta Springs Mall at the Triangle that would be make cityhood financially viable.

The mall developer had signed up J.C. Penny, Sears and others for their regional center. Murrieta voters approved cityhood and incorporated in 1991. 

However, the Murrieta Springs Mall sputtered and stalled and another group of developers built The Promenade which opened in Temecula in 1999. 

About that same time, Temecula officials realized developer Zev Buffman’s plan to turn Old Town Temecula into a Wild-West Entertainment District was a house of cards, mostly Aces and Eights. 

Banished from Temecula, Buffman’s plan was welcomed with open arms by Murrieta officials. With the Triangle’s size,  the plan – now called RogersDale U.S.A. – morphed into a $185 million complex with an 8,000-seat arena, hotels, shops and theaters. 

Preliminary grading was done for the new project.

However Murrieta residents, and more importantly potential bond buyers needed to finance RogersDale U.S.A, said a loud “Whoa.”   

Buffman moved on leaving the Triangle mostly unchanged except for the big hole in the middle for the arena where a minor-league hockey team was supposed to play. 

Two decades ago, in complete jest, I wrote a newspaper column proposing the San Diego Chargers build a football stadium on the site and move to Murrieta. Most people got the joke.

It was later reported, not by me, the Chargers and the land owner had an actual discussion about that possibility which was nixed by the football team saying our area didn’t have sufficient population to support the team. As it turns out, neither does Los Angeles. 

In more recent times Environmental Studies have been published, public hearings have been held and hopes have been raised and dashed. 

Should we be optimistic now? 

I believe so. Both the land owner and the city have worked hard to return the “gold” to this Triangle..

Work could begin later this year on this “destination retail environment” with the first phase opening in early 2027.

Watch this space.

Written by John Hunneman

For three decades John Hunneman was a reporter and columnist for both The Californian and Riverside Press-Enterprise newspapers. He retired in 2020 after serving as the Communications Director for California State Senator Jeff Stone.

John currently serves on the City of Murrieta Parks and Recreation Commission and is on the Board of Directors of The Nature Education Foundation at the Santa Rosa Plateau.

He recently concluded two years of service on the Riverside County Civil Grand Jury.

John is a proud Vietnam-Era U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He and his wife Yvonne have lived in Murrieta for 35 years. Both of their sons graduated from Murrieta Valley High School.

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